Two years ago, the former Victims Commissioner and I, among many other campaigners, called for a review of domestic homicide sentencing over concerns about gendered disparities in sentencing and more broadly in the criminal justice system.
That review was completed last June, and I am delighted to read Clare Wade KC’s very comprehensive report which has been published today.
Taken together, her 17 recommendations would resolve some of the biggest issues facing domestic homicide sentencing. As it stands, only three of the recommendations are being acted upon in the government’s interim response.
Clare Wade KC’s recommendations were designed as a package, with each intended to work in conjunction with the other. I fear that the piecemeal approach the government has chosen by accepting three recommendations implemented in isolation – may have unintended and harmful consequences for victims.
Coercive control and overkill should certainly be taken into account as an aggravating factor. In some cases, however, they can also be mitigating factors. This is not reflected in today’s announcement, and I hope this, and the other recommendations can be adopted in the government’s full response, due in the summer.
I look forward to working with the judiciary and Ministry of Justice to ensure that all of Clare Wade KC’s recommendations are taken forward and implemented.
Notes to Editors:
Please read a more detailed response from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office here:
- We welcome the publication of the Clare Wade KC review into Domestic Homicide Sentencing. Our Office called for the review further to concerns regarding disparities in sentencing for homicides committed in domestic contexts. The Review diligently considers the insidious nature of domestic abuse cases which have the most tragic endings.
- As the review highlights, coercive control is often at the centre of these cases. Whilst the way it manifests may be different for every victim, it demonstrates the importance of professionals across the legal system having a broad understanding of the insidious nature of coercive control and how it can escalate to homicide. We welcome Clare Wade KC’s recommendation regarding training on this for lawyers and members of the judiciary. Our office has been working closely with the senior judiciary and the Centre for Social Justice to highlight the importance of this issue and will continue to advocate for mandatory domestic abuse and coercive control training for all lawyers and judges working within the criminal justice system.
- Too often, findings and recommendations made by agencies following domestic homicides are left to lie on file without substantive changes being made to prevent the deaths of future survivors. This is not good enough. We welcome the Review’s recommendation regarding the implementation of a data collection system for domestic homicides. Our office has been carrying out extensive work to establish a database of domestic homicides and suicides following domestic abuse, for the purpose of tracking how agencies implement recommendations and to ensure that lessons from these deaths can be learnt nationally rather than just locally.
- Whilst the Government’s commitment to making coercive control an aggravating factor is welcome, this measure on its own is not sufficient in achieving substantial change. As highlighted by the Review, this behaviour does not occur in a silo and once it escalates to domestic homicide, victims are often subjected to cruel and degrading behaviour by perpetrators at the point of death. As a matter of urgency, the Government must implement the Review’s recommendation that domestic murders be given a specialist consideration within the present sentencing framework under schedule 21. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner urges the Government to make amendments to schedule 21 making murders at the end of a relationship, murders by strangulation and murders by overkill a statutory aggravating factor. In a similar vein, it is time for the removal of sexual infidelity as a partial defence to murder to be placed on a statutory footing. This should be mirrored in the manslaughter guidelines.
- We share concerns highlighted in the review about a lack of available defences to murder where victims experience entrapment due to domestic abuse. We have seen countless reviews consider this issue and it is time to finally take action. Experiencing coercive control should be a statutory mitigating factor and we would like to see the Government commit to conducting a comprehensive review of the defences to murder, with a specific focus on domestic abuse.
- Before the Government starts to look at increasing the sentencing starting point to 25 years, we need broader measures outlined in the review regarding the need for a much wider understanding of the insidious nature of coercive control and domestic abuse. What we need is a specialist consideration of domestic murders within the sentencing framework, not more rigid sentencing which does not get to the heart of the issues.
- We have previously raised concerns with the change in law increasing the sentencing starting point from 15 to 25 years for perpetrators taking a weapon to a scene. The culpability of a perpetrator who kills using a knife in the home is as high as one who brings one to the scene. This distinction creates an inconsistency of outcome for the families of survivors and is ultimately an injustice which must be disapplied in domestic abuse cases.
- The Domestic Abuse Commissioner supports the recommendation that use of a weapon should not be a statutory aggravating factor in domestic murders. As highlighted in the review, the issue in many domestic homicides is not the use of a weapon, it is gratuitous overkill by perpetrators which aggravate the offence. Through making use of a weapon a statutory aggravating factor, there is far to high a risk that many victims who kill will be disproportionately punished for offending to ultimately protect themselves from harm.